Following the Abuja-Kaduna train bombing last week, Governor El-Rufai has been running between Aso Rock and Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, throwing around blame in the media and threatening a federal government ruled by his own party. If it’s the governor of Kaduna now, it was the Governor of Niger a few months ago. Before him were the governors of Zamfara, Sokoto, Borno and Kebbi. And who knows who will be next? No other governor showed sympathy or support for Kaduna – but nor did he identify with others when their states were attacked. That is how they do things here. Each for himself to the ultimate detriment of all.
The attack is a terrible reminder, if one were needed, that nowhere is safe in our country –not our homes, not the highways, not schools, not military buildings. And now, not even the only remaining affordable means of transport. The ambush was as shocking as it is terrible, but it couldn’t have come as a big surprise to anyone. This was successful where October’s attempt failed. That attempt failed only because the explosives used weren’t strong enough, with hundreds escaping by the skin of their teeth. We knew full well that whosoever made that attempt would return more prepared.
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What did the government do? It took a sigh of relief, thanked God and moved on. In fact, we now know that credible intelligence flagging a possible attack was sent to the authorities months before this incident. The Kaduna State government as well as the intelligence operators had repeatedly requested an end to night trains for security reasons, and the minister of transport had requested approval for surveillance equipment on the trains. But the intelligence was ignored, the technology was not acquired and trains continued to operate at night. This is criminal negligence for which people in high places would have been held accountable in the average Africa country. But don’t hold your breath. Buhari’s Nigeria is in a class of its own in the league of unresponsive, unaccountable regimes.
Even more shocking was the military precision with which the attackers pounced on their prey. They chose a valley and stationed themselves at a vantage point; they knew which train to target and used explosives that were strong enough to give the desired result. They even knew which carriages to prioritise and the kind of people to look for. When they broke in, they knew how to take their captives in batches so they could escape with some even if help arrived before they have completed their criminal operation. And each of these went exactly to plan. When unschooled terrorists seemingly plan and implement better than your government and its forces, you know you are in a big trouble.
We saw this increased sophistication coming. I and others have repeatedly warned that different factions of Boko Haram have infiltrated elements of the so-called bandits and that this unholy alliance was sure to spell a greater disaster. One thing I repetitively warned of, including on these pages, was that a Bandit-Boko co-operation could enable the transfer of IED technology from Boko Haram. It is likely that this was what happened here. In fact, El-Rufai claims that the attackers were “members of Boko who are collaborating with bandits”. We shouldn’t take El-Rufai at his words, especially before seeing the evidence. But it would not be wise to rule out Boko Haram’s direct or indirect involvement in this attack.
Either way, a new, extremely concerning chapter has been opened. Unless decisive action is taken right now, this will sadly be the beginning of another kind of mass atrocity and carnage in the North West and the North Central. Bandit terrorists have abducted over 1000 schoolchildren in under a year; they have shot down a military jet; they have invaded the Nigerian Defence Academy; they have made attempts on airport; and now they have successfully bombed a moving train. What will stop this gang from bombing churches, mosques, markets and schools if they wanted to? What will stop them from targeting any location they wished to? What will stop them from launching attacks to scuttle the 2023 elections and throw our country into unprecedented constitutional crisis and chaos?
El-Rufai’s rush to meet with President Buhari is consistent with the practice of northern governors. When attacks in their states cause public outrage (which is the only thing that moves them), they run to Aso Rock even though they know they would return empty-handed. On each occasion, Buhari blames the victims or makes promises that are neither sufficient nor credible. The president will then summon the service chiefs to mark their homework. The service chiefs will make announcements of ‘huge’ deployments that are hardly noticed on the ground and then a few days later claim to have “neutralised” some vast number of terrorists, destroying multiple “logistical bases” and recovering a military arsenal of weapons. There will be no evidence to support any of these. And the terrorist will strike again. We have seen this script not once, not twice, not three times.
El-Rufai’s threat that he and other North West governors would “import mercenaries” if Buhari continues to fail is pure political posturing. Governors neither have the constitutional powers nor the resources to do this, and El-Rufai knows it. But his warning is a vote of no-confidence on Buhari which echoes the frustration of most Nigerians who continue to suffer the human and economic costs of the sheer negligence of the ruling class. Add to this Minister Amaechi’s public outburst that if his ministry’s proposal to procure surveillance equipment for the trains had been approved on time, this tragedy could have been averted.
That a sitting governor and an incumbent minister would criticise their own government in this way confirms what we have said all along: the Buhari government is incompetent, inept and careless – and it is now divided against itself. But no one should be deceived by El-Rufai and Amaechi. Theirs is political grandstanding by politicians who are too clever by half. They are struggling to extricate themselves from the disgraceful failure that they participated in for seven years. They are trying to squeeze themselves into a lifeboat from this sinking ship. After partaking in woeful failure from its inception, they are now playing to the gallery so that they may wind up as heroes who spoke against the Buhari fiasco as their ticket to getting into the next government. They are taking Nigerians for fools.
Lost in this narcistic political show-off are the victims. Eight people were killed by the attackers and 26 injured. Among those killed were a promising medical doctor full of life, several trade union leaders and a director at the National Board for Technical Education. It is indescribably painful how a useless bunch of terrorists can massacre some of the best of us with impunity. And consider the fate of the 146 people still missing. Just imagine fasting the month of Ramadan in a kidnappers’ den. The government has since started brandishing its customary line that it can’t attack the terrorists because they are holding civilians. If we do not reform this criminal negligence, our country will collapse and no one will be saved.